In August, toxic blue-green algae gunked up the water intake valves near Toledo, forcing residents to buy bottled water and skip showers. Hospitals and prisons and restaurants all scrambled to cope with the situation. I spoke with lake expert from the Ohio Sea Grant at the time of the crisis. "So the conditions were such this past Friday that the bloom was really blown right down against the city of Toledo and that was sucked into the water treatment plant," he said.
The two day crisis garnered national—even international—attention. I called Reutter up recently to see what, if any, progress has been made in the wake of the bloom. He said the situation is not good but there's reason to be optimistic. "We’re seeing a real change in attitude on the part of the agricultural community. But we have to see more evidence that changes in the lake are occurring," he said.
Reducing nutrient runoff from farm fields that drain into Erie’s shallow western basin is key to stopping the blooms, says Reutter.
Ohio House bill 490 aimed to help address the root cause of these algal blooms through mechanisms such as a ban on manure application to frozen farmland, but that bill is dead in the water.
On the national front, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it will develop drinking water health advisories for toxic algae by spring of next year (2015), and, at least for next year, the state will continue to get money from the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to help ease the blooms.
But those hoping the Toledo crisis might act as a catalyst for big change, may ring in the new year with some disappointment.